Cabarete? Sosua? Puerto Plata? Las Terrenas? Punta Cana? No thanks, no thanks and no thanks again! All the above mentioned places are highly touristy, and mostly filled with resorts. As Alex once said to me not long after arriving in Australia, "It's not your cup of coffee, is it Ombs?" No, it isn't actually! Lets say that neither of us are into resorts and hanging out with our own, on the other side of the world. It kind of defeats the traveller's motto of experiencing the country and it's people!
Our first point of call after Santo Domingo was the Samana Peninsula, in the north-east of the country. We arrived there via Caribe Tours, one of the country's two national and public bus systems. After finding a place to sleep......Alex guards the backpacks whilst I go and "explore", we were free to wander around. I should mention the two "must haves" in any room we choose - a clean bathroom, and a bed which is comfortable and has clean sheets!
The town of Samana is quite tranquil, yet dotted with either bright or pastel coloured wooden houses......a look which has so definitely come to depict anything Caribbean. It is mostly and justafiably famous as it is one of the top places in the world to observe humpback whales. They visit the region, between January and March of each year. We did not get to see the whales, as we were a little early, but we did get to see the Los Haitises National Park.
In the language of the Taino Indians (sorry, none left, eradicated by the Spaniards!), the primitive settlers of the islands, the word Haiti meant high or mountainous earth. The park is reached by boat, and rather than being a solid land mass, it is dotted with several jungly type islands and thick mangrove forests. The entire park is of coralline origin, having emerged from the sea millions of years ago as the earth's plates thrust them upwards. What an exciting place to explore.........we stopped at several of the islands, and wandered through caves, saw stalagmites, as well as some of the paintings, or pictographs, left by the Taino Indians. I felt like an extra on "Gilligan's Island"!
Although we only stayed a couple of nights, we managed to get to a very non-touristy nightclub called " El Cielito" (The Little Sky), thanks to a local we met. Here, we were very much the only tourists, and I must say that as I watched those women slowly move and gyrate to the beat of bachata, I felt very inadequate! Not only were they brilliant dancers....I must admit to feeling a little jealous.... I want to come back in my next life with one of those butts!
Next was Las Galeras, only a 45 minute "gua-gua" ride away. A gua-gua is effectively a minivan, in which the aim seems to be to cram in as many persons as humanely possible! No....actually, more!
The ride took us through lush rainforest, and several small "pueblitos", or towns, where the people obviously live very simple lives. Everyone had a big smile on their face and many waved, in the fashion that I now know to be so Dominican. And of course the road side was dotted with those brightly painted houses! Las Galeras is indeed small, but it has a multitude of mind-blowingly spectacular beaches. We hung out with Mel Gibson (aka John) the yank and Audrey from France, who were managing Paradise Bungalows. both had been to Australia, so I suppose I was aptly named "Sheila". An extremely friendly couple who made sure that I had good coffee and plenty of "mamahuana", the local brew. Another beautiful family was Wolfgang (originally from Germany), his gorgeous Dominican wife Yanett, and their delightful daughter Camilla. C'mon, look at that photo and tell me she isn't stunning! May I add with a personality to match!
We spent a few days here, just resting and exploring the beaches, including La Playita and Playa Rincon. The latter has been named one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, and with its multihued water, gorgeous stretch of white sand, and fringed by continuous rows of white sand, I can totally understand why!
Add fresh sea food on the beach (that's forAlex!), and locals cracking open coconuts for us, I am sure that you can understand how we could be forgiven for assuming that we had found paradise!
Next: Our grueling ascent of Pico Duarte, the nation's highest peak.
(Photos: 1. Ombi & Alex , Haitises National Park 2. Playa Rincon (Rincon Beach) 3. Caribbean home 4. Haitis National Park. 5. The locals. 6. Ombi, Camila & Yanett. 6. La Playita. 7. The locals with the photographer.)
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